Samba club’s trouble is no worry for Gisele

Published 7:03 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Portraying a modern Venus with flowing tresses and a golden mini dress, supermodel Gisele Bundchen blew kisses to thousand of roaring fans Monday as the featured performer of the Carnival samba club Vila Isabel.

The group’s elaborate entry celebrated myths and tales about hair — so it was hardly surprising its gyrating performance was sponsored by Procter & Gamble Co., whose Pantene shampoo line has Bundchen as its representative.

Dedicated fans of the Vila Isabel club waited until the early hours of Monday morning to take in the spectacle, which included snake-haired Medusas, flaxen-haired Rapunzel’s, Samsons and Dalilahs, and the Indian god Shiva, whose tresses gave origin to the universe.

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The cost of Vila Isabel’s flashy entry was estimated at $6 million. The amount picked up by Procter & Gamble was not specified, but the sponsorship surely was a bonanza for Vila Isabel, which went without such support the past two years.

Last year, club president Wilson Vieira Alves, known as Moises, was sent to prison for his involvement with illegal slot-machine gambling. Three other Vila Isabel leaders also were arrested along with seven police officers.

Moises’ son, a law student, subsequently took over leadership of the club and promised to run it like a business.

Such complications are not unusual. A number of samba club leaders and financial backers — even a president of the league that sets the rules for the two-day Carnival parade — have been linked to illegal gambling, numbers-running or the drug trade.

That hasn’t kept sponsors away. Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Juliana Azevedo could not be reached for comment during the Carnival holiday, but she previously told the Brazilian newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo that the company’s sponsorship of Vila Isabel was just a small part of its role in Carnival.

“The incident with the president of the group is very dissociated from this,” she said.

Maria de Oliveira Pinto, 54, came from the neighborhood of Andarai, one of the communities that serves as Vila Isabel’s home base. In the bleachers above the parade, she and a boisterous group of friends danced and sang along with other groups.

“No one really thinks about this, these connections,” Pinto said. “Vila Isabel has a strong base: It’s made up of a community, not one man. I am here because I am Vila Isabel, with or without a president.”